"I don't do any advertising or marketing other than good food at a reasonable price and having standards that shine," Little said.
She's also got a knack for networking, building relationships with everyone from Terra Bella Family Farm and other vendors to those who hire her and her students to cater their events, like the Rotary Club of Pleasanton.
The home ec teacher was honored -- again -- by the Pleasanton School Board at its latest meeting. That's the latest in a long series of awards that began in 1976, when she won Home Economics Student Teacher of the Year from San Jose State University for her work at Foothill High School. She went on to win both district Teacher of the Year in 1995 and Alameda County Teacher of the Year in 1996.
Despite winning the San Jose State award, Little wasn't hired at Foothill that first year, losing out to a teacher with more experience. The school was brand new at the time and out of 28 places she'd considered, it was the place she wanted to work.
"I was distraught," she recalled.
But she did land a fulltime job with Dublin High, which was part of the Pleasanton district then, in 1978. By 1979, she was teaching home ec at Foothill.
Little has been at Village for 11 years, but she said she was dubious when first invited to move to the district's alternative high school. Foothill's assistant principal Sheila Flynn was moving into the principal's job and wanted Little to move her program there.
"I'd never seen Village and didn't think I wanted to work there," Little said.
She was willing to listen, though, and went on a tour led by Flynn.
"What did it was a student I'd had at Foothill that I'd tried everything with and just couldn't reach. I walked into class and she was smiling and she was interacting, and I said, 'This could be the place,'" Little said.
She was unhappy with what the district had planned for Village's home economics space, however, and spent the weekend drawing plans on graph paper. After a meeting with district officials that began a bit contentiously, those officials agreed with her. Little said the space was built "exactly according to that graph paper."
She teaches two catering classes that operate Village Catering, the school's in-house business that gives students real world experience; two classes called Good Eats, which focus on preparing meals that are "nutritious and delicious"; and a fifth class, which is work experience.
Although Little offers her students from Village opportunities to get jobs in the food service industry -- she has job postings on a wall of her classroom -- only a half-dozen or so have made that their careers.
That's OK with her. She recognizes that the business is a tough one requiring people to work long hours including nights, weekends and holidays.
"What I think is more important is to teach transferable skills. Lots of people get the wrong idea from the Food Network," Little said. "I see the food as a vehicle for what I teach: organization, time management, teamwork, problem solving. All those transferable skills are really important."
Little runs a tight ship. Last week, while preparing Village High's annual turkey feast -- an annual meal served to all Village students, and for some, the only Thanksgiving they'll have, according to Little -- student and adult volunteers listened to an impromptu homily about safety.
"These knives were sharpened this morning," she told the dozen or so volunteers.
That didn't stop a couple of minor cuts, which were quickly patched up and covered by plastic gloves.
Village Catering is gearing up to do the Pleasanton Rotary's annual holiday party. Last year, after hearing the Rotarians laughing and singing, one of her students approached her and asked if that was what adult parties were like. When she said it was, that student said he couldn't wait to be an adult.
And, after spending 14 hours on their feet, another student told Little that she felt "exhilarated."
"'I'm always so hard on myself to do a good job,'" Little said the student told her. "'We did a good job.'"
The Rotarians have decided to donate $1,800 to replace an industrial dishwasher.
Little is now considering another big move. The bakery that provides bread for Terra Bella Family Farm recently went out of business and the owner approached Village asking if Little would be willing to take on the task of baking for the farm's weekly distribution to its members.
She and her students just might rise to that opportunity.
Special Awards and Accomplishments
1976 San Jose State University Home Economics Student Teacher of the Year
1995 Teacher of the Year, Pleasanton Unified School District
1996 Teacher of the Year, Alameda County
1996 CA Department of Education, Selected One of Top 10 Teachers in California
2000 National Leavey Award for Private Enterprise Education
2006 Community of Character Award, 2006 (City of Pleasanton & Chamber of Commerce)
2007 Food Service and Hospitality Exemplary Program, Continuation Educators Association
2008 Dream, Dare, Do Award (Home Economics Teachers of California)
2012 Tri-Valley YMCA Martin Luther King Legacy Award
2012 PUSD Certificate of Recognition for the Village Catering Program
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